The tyranny of 'any thoughts?'

Some time in the last 15 or so years the closer on a "help me please" email moved from "any ideas?" to "any thoughts?". I have no idea what has driven this shift in usage, but it is definitely there. And for whatever reason, it drives me crazy. I was never much of a fan of "any ideas?" but "any thoughts?" is the same but worse.

When the BOFH in me gets ascendent I answer such emails in the way they're written, an entreaty to participate in brain-storming, rather than how they're meant, an plea to come up with action-items that will fix the problem. The BOFH is not safe for public consumption and always gives IT people a bad name, which is why I try to repress it whenever possible. I'm not always successful, but I try.

"Any ideas?", for whatever reason, means more of a plea for resolution than "Any thoughts?" does to me. Both are frequently used as the closing sentence of a trouble report, and are frequently superfluous; the act of submitting a help request is an implicit, you know, cry for help. I see this a lot on ServerFault, but it also shows up in internal correspondence with me at my workplace.

My remote-desktop sessions keep crashing. They never last more than 2 minutes for some reason. This is new as of yesterday.

This needs to get fixed.

My remote-desktop sessions keep crashing. They never last more than 2 minutes for some reason. This is new as of yesterday.

Any ideas?


My remote-desktop sessions keep crashing. They never last more than 2 minutes for some reason. This is new as of yesterday.

Any thoughts?

Thanks in advance.

All three need more information before supplying a probable answer. The first is most likely to get me digging into a problem directly. The second is more likely to cause me to reply with a fault-tree for following to the ultimate cause. The last is more likely to cause me to throw an off the top of my head answer ("network problems can cause resets") rather than actually fix the problem.

Some people have a hard time with declaratives and feel much more comfortable ending with a question. Still others, like many on ServerFault, feel the grammatical need to wrap their trouble report in a "Hello/Thanks" block. And then there are those who don't like to presume upon my time for their silly little problem and try to blunt the force of the need for help by just asking for some tips.

But still, for me "any thoughts?" is the dripping faucet in the night of my problem-fixing day. Knowing why people use it helps a little, but when the veneer of civilization rubs off and the server troll peeks through I become... less helpful.


If you don't end your post with a question, you frequently get berated by pedants on the opposite side of the spectrum asking stupid questions like, "So what's your question?", and "I don't see a question here" -- completely unable to process the idea that an implied question is a well-accepted form of human communication.

I'm actually the opposite to this, I'm more inclined to help someone that offers a hello/thanks and shows some kind of initiative in finding the solution themselves such as a hint as to what they should be looking at.

When presenting an issue, as you hinted, those closings are not equivalent in terms of expected response and the level of effort that has been expended to this point. Thus, a more detailed analysis is needed.

The first closing is what one might expect of a superior, or someone in serious need of immediate resolution; the imperative has been placed upon you to act to solve their concern(s), even if it's not strictly in your area. Assuming the lack of a lengthy CC list, this might mean, for example, finding the physical plant manager to help you locate the faulty part of the Ethernet cable running to the sender's office. Is this sort of ombudsman/concierge role part of your job? Perhaps not. But you have been clearly tasked with finding and implementing a solution, so you do it anyway.

The second is looking for resolution, but is open to the possibility that it might be their own PEBKAC, or that you might need additional information from them in order to meaningfully diagnose what's going on. Importantly, it does this in part by carrying an implicit sense of teamwork; you're the subject-matter expert being asked for ideas, but you might be one of a half-dozen such experts on the CC list, all of whom are being solicited simultaneously, and the sender may need no more than the mere germ of an idea (or two) from you all in order to take the next step on his or her own.

The last closing, then, is even more low-key, but carries a different connotation. It suggests that time is not of the essence, but it also implies that the person posing the interrogatory has exhausted all the possibilities of which they can think. It can be paniced—"Any thoughts!?"—but this is usually clear from context; it's far more likely to be a non-critical issue as described above.

I really don't find any of the examples you listed especially galling, though it does bug me that the problem report is missing some crucial data. Perhaps that's what is actually upsetting to you? A bad bug report followed by, "Any thoughts?" is horrible, while one followed by, "Any ideas?" is more acceptable as it tends to correlate with someone willing to try a thing or two to diagnose or correct the issue.

Any further thoughts?